There’s a special place where the writing just flows. It comes through you and it’s the best you can do to merely keep up with it, getting it all down as quickly as you can. The sentences come pre-formed; you never struggle to find that perfect word. Call it being in the zone, feeling the flow, whatever you want. It’s a special place.
And then there are other times. When you stare at your computer and you can’t think of a single word to write. When every sentence you type is clunky and stupid and you wonder, what’s the point? Temporary writer’s block, a dead zone, whatever. It’s ugly.
So how do you get from that ugly place to that special place? How do you release your creativity and get over writer’s block?
After writing a novel in just over five weeks, I learned a lot about how to get myself into the zone. And the best thing I can think to do with that knowledge is share it with you. Enjoy!
1. Just Write
Just keep writing, no matter what. Even if the sentences are stupid and you know you’ll never get published, just keep writing. I discovered that, unless I was writing from pure inspiration (more on that later), it took me about 200 words to get into the zone. Those first 200 words (or sometimes more) were bad and I knew I’d have to go back and work on them later, but if I just kept going I would slowly get into the zone. So just give yourself a break and keep writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time through.
2. Have a word count goal
I don’t mean a vague idea of what you’d like to accomplish over the next month. I mean a clearly defined goal for every single day. My goal was 2000 words a day. To make it extra easy, I made a word count chart for the whole month so I knew how many words I had to get to on a given day. So let’s say I started on the first of the month. The beginning of the chart would look like this:
- Day 1: 2000
- Day 2: 4000
- Day 3: 6000
- Day 4: 8000
That way, I knew that if I slacked off one day, I would have to make it up the next day. It helped keep me honest. And also, to be clear, it was 2000 words every day, so if I did more than 2000 in a day, I updated the chart. My high was 7000 words in one day. Let’s say I did that on Day 2. Now my chart would look like this:
Day 1: 2000 Day 2: 4000
- Day 3: 11,000
- Day 4: 13,000
3. Do something else creative
If you’re staring at your computer not writing, get up. Do something else that uses your creative mind. My favorites are to play the piano, draw something, or take photographs. But it could really be anything that gets you in that mindset. Anything that uses the right brain. You need to wake up your creative side any way that you can. Once it’s awake, you’ll get into the flow much more easily.
4. Let your mind wander
I’m pretty sure that my husband thinks I’m lazy. Because the fact is, I don’t just write all day, every day. In order to really write, your mind needs a lot of other time to just wander. You need to spend a good hour aimlessly playing with the cats and staring at the pretty trees outside your window. You need to give your mind the time and space it needs to make the connections that will lead to inspiration. So stop checking your phone every spare chance you get. And stop listening to music all.the.time. Stop watching TV or reading books when you have downtime at night. Give your mind a little peace and quiet. It will reward you.
On the other hand, don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in this quiet space that you never get to the actual writing. Once you decide it’s time to sit down and write, you need to stop staring at the trees and petting the cats. You need to write.
5. Practice Mindfulness
In mindfulness terms, creativity happens when you are in the present moment, but flowing with it instead of observing it rationally. It happens when your reason mind and emotion mind are working together. So anything that brings you to the present moment will help you get closer to creativity.
One of my favorite things to do is to use my left hand to do things. (Use your right hand if you’re left-handed.) This has the added benefit of waking up the right-brain. It’s so hard to do that you can’t help but bring all your awareness to the task at hand and the present moment. You can write with your left hand, which is a trick I’ve heard in other circles for releasing creativity. But you can do other things as well, like brush your teeth, brush your hair, spread butter, etc. Anything that you would instinctively use your right hand to do.
Take your mindfulness one step further and meditate. If you don’t know how, read a book or go to a workshop. Or just do this:
Sit on the floor with your legs crossed (or in lotus if you can). Let your arms rest gently on your thighs. Clear your mind of all thoughts. As thoughts start to arise, let them go. It can help to focus on your breath. Watch the in and out of your breath. The feeling of it coming in through your nose, or the way your chest rises and falls, or the movement of your diaphragm. Whatever feels natural. The main thing is to let all thoughts drop away. It’s totally normal to get wrapped up in a thought and suddenly realize you’ve been daydreaming for you’re not quite sure how long. Don’t give up. Just keep clearing your mind and coming back to the breath. Over and over and over again. Soon it will get easier. And once your mind is clear, you’ve given yourself the space your subconscious mind needs to make the connections that are essential for creativity.
7. Get Outside
Just go take a walk. I don’t care if it’s cold or rainy or so hot you can hardly breath. Just get some sunlight and fresh air. Or if it’s night time, just get some fresh air. Seriously, it will do wonders.
Journal through whatever is causing you problems. If it’s something personal that’s on your mind and preventing you from writing, journal about it. If it’s a problem with your story that you can’t seem to get past, journal about that. And do it longhand. With pen and paper. Trust me.
9. Disconnect Your Internet
You know and I know that half the time you can’t write it’s because you’re too busy checking Facebook and/or Twitter. Disconnect the internet. Or go to a coffee shop and don’t sign up for the WiFi. When you can’t distract yourself with cute cats and the latest awesome list from Buzzfeed, you’ll have no choice but to write. (And I’m assuming this should go without saying, but just in case: never turn on the TV. Never.)
10. Follow the Inspiration
When inspiration does hit, write it down, right away. I mean, right that very instant. Don’t think that you can finish brushing your teeth and then go write it down. Put down your toothbrush, run/walk quickly to your computer or a notepad, and write everything you have. When it stops, you can finish brushing your teeth. If you wait, assuming that the sentence is so perfect you could never forget it, you’ll sit down at your computer and find that it’s completely gone. Totally and irrevocably lost. Don’t let that happen.
Inspiration usually comes for me at really inconvenient times. Right before I have to leave to pick Addie up, when I’m in the shower, when I’m doing the dishes, when I’m brushing my teeth, when I’m almost asleep. As much as possible, I try to follow the inspiration. I get out of bed, I put down my toothbrush, I leave the dishes for later, I cut the shower short, even though the hot water feels amazing. Addie is less put-down-able, but I do try to at least jot down some notes if I can’t actually write when she’s around. Inspiration is a rare and special treat – you need to give it all the attention it deserves.
11. Be Open to the Inspiration
Above all else, you must get straight within your own mind that you are ready to write. That you are ready to be inspired.
Inspiration comes from somewhere. Whether you think it’s the Muse or that part of your brain that most of us spend most of our lives never accessing. Whatever you think it is, you have to accept the fact that it’s not your conscious mind doing it. You need to be willing to receive the inspiration. For a little while, at least, you need to believe in magic.
And if you believe in magic, everything else will come.
What do you do to get in the zone? Add your tips in the comments!